If you want to skip over my diatribe, ignore the purple prose and jump down to the black text. You’ve been warned!
Jules Rivera’s aesthetic, coming out of non-mainstream art styles popular with online comics and graphic novels, has been a lightning rod for controversy, scorn, and even positive support. Her stories have also received their share of snark and appreciation. Not that that is new, of course. The legacy Mark Trail has long been a popular target for its cornball and illogical stories, its sometimes-uneven old-fashioned artwork, a reliance on cut-and-pasted poses, stilted dialog, and simplistic morals. Oddly, they have also been the strength of the original strip for many who cherished its sameness. It’s one reason why reruns of old TV shows are still very popular. Just ask my dad!
I think we should try to understand Rivera’s Mark Trail through her non-mainstream roots, but it is certainly a difficult task for many of us. I imagine it is similar to what the art world and general public of late 19th century France faced when they first came into contact with Impressionist painting and its many followers. It was “the shock of the new“, as art critic Robert Hughes wrote about the birth of modern art.
I am both apologist and critic of the Mark Trail reboot. I admire Rivera’s gutsy efforts to bring the strip into a contemporary setting, as off-kilter, reactive, and nutty as you would find in any Florida-based piece of fiction. I liked her original artistic vision of the strip during its early months, before the art became more simplified and sometimes erratic. In part, I see that due to unforeseen pressures of deadlines, but I could be completely wrong!
I am very glad to see Rivera giving Cherry greater visibility and her own adventures. In that way, she is more like the way Cherry was originally depicted when the strip first began, before she transformed into a conventional wife and mere supporting cast member. On the other hand, I am not a keen admirer of soap opera/sitcom elements that sometimes show up, especially during interludes between adventures.
That brings us to this past week, where Mark has fretted like a boy having to recite poetry in English class. Mark is plainly afraid of the offered assignment to investigate a roadside zoo in Texas. While Amy Lee tried to play up Mark’s love of adventure, it was Cherry who laid down the law and sent Mark whimpering like a hurt puppy back to take the assignment. Yet, Cherry acted like a preteen gushing over her teen idol when she learned Mark would be working with a Hollywood celebrity animal wrangler.
Is Rivera making fun of Mark and Cherry, casting them as a henpecked husband and a shallow wife? Or is Jules trying to use old TV tropes to connect with long-time readers? It is a dangerous approach, as many long-time readers clearly don’t cotton to Mark being made to look and act like an overly sensitive metrosexual who would prefer to stay home and listen to light jazz. Anyway, while Rivera gets this party going, let’s spend a bit of time looking at today’s nature talk!
I’m fine with this approach. Far too much decorative concrete pavement appears in large cities.